'Fantastic', 'rich' and 'multi-layered' children’s novel The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge scooped the coveted Book of the Year award at the Costa Book of the Year Awards ceremony in London last night. Described by judges as a gripping and page turning read for all ages, they hope that the win will herald a new interest in the often underrated genre.
I see this as a recognition of the wonderful work that is being done throughout childrens' and young adults' fiction
The first children’s novel to scoop the award for 14 years befittingly centres around 14-year-old girl Faith Sunderly as she tries to solve a murder in Victorian England. When Faith's father is found dead under suspicious circumstances, she discovers a mysterious tree that only feeds off whispered lies – the fruit of which, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. As Faith begins to spread lies far and wide in her quest to uncover the truth of what happened to her father, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter.
Previously known as the Whitbread Awards, the Costa Book Awards honour outstanding books by authors in the UK and Ireland across five distinct categories including poetry, first novels, novels, children’s books and biographies.
After one and half hours of deliberating, the overall winner was agreed by a panel consisting of former bookseller James Heneage, actress Jane Asher, comedian Katy Brand, former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis and representatives from the category panels. The Lie Tree beat off stiff competition from the other categories, among which were bookies’ favourites The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley and Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins, to join the ranks of previous winners such last year's H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
Judge James Heneage described the book as a fantastic, page-turning read, with great characterisation that cleverly articulates a 14 year old's mind, while also being an extremely important book for the issues that it tackles.
“It is an important book not only because it is a great narrative with great characterisation, but because its central message is of possibility for an intelligent girl who is out of touch with the age in which she lives… and, I would argue, [just as] relevant for today.”
Winning author, 42-year-old Frances Hardinge from Isleworth, was visibly surprised as she took to the stage, stating that she was still waiting to congratulate someone else for winning the award. The Lie Tree is her seventh novel – Frances previously worked as a technical author and a graphic designer for a software company, while writing her first novel and studying English Lanugage and Literature at Oxford. Her other books include Verdigris Deep, Gullstruck Island, Twilight Robbery, A Face Like Glass and Cuckoo Song.
Describing The Lie Tree, Hardinge emphasised the importance of the themes, describing it as “a Victorian Gothic mystery with added paleontology, blasting powder, post-mortem photography and feminism.’
When asked about the gender roles at play in her book, she said: 'Female education is very important to me – I always have a problem with any convention, any prejudice that allows people to treat other people as inferior’.
More than anything, there will be delight in the world of children’s fiction at this news – a genre that can sometimes be, as Hardinge states, ‘seen as a bit lightweight in a way that is not deserved’. Speaking about the implications of this win, she said, ‘I would also see this as a recognition of the wonderful work that is being done out there throughout childrens' and young adults' fiction.
‘For those people who might be hearing this who think that children's and YA fiction is not their thing please do come and explore – there's a beautiful jungle out there.’
Check out some of the highlights from the event below.
Sounds great to us! The Lie Tree is available to purchase now, and if this has put you in the mood for some reading, don't forget to check out our selection of children's books available online and in-store.